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NATO: Membership

Volume 684: debated on Monday 3 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether, at the Riga summit in November, they will support extending the prospect of future membership of NATO beyond those states which have already been offered membership action plans.

My Lords, the UK strongly supports NATO’s open-door policy on enlargement. Enlargement is a catalyst for reform and stability and brings benefits to the alliance. It is NATO’s intensified dialogue, not membership action plans, which first formally offers the prospect of NATO membership, but, of course, without prejudice to a final decision by allies on membership. Currently, only Ukraine has intensified dialogue. It is unclear whether any Partnership for Peace countries might be given intensified dialogue at Riga.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does NATO now have a clear strategy towards Russia? After all, it is fairly clear policy in Washington that Ukraine should be offered membership at the Riga summit. A substantial lobby in Washington suggests that Georgia should be put on a membership action plan, which to the Russians looks like the beginning of encirclement. Azerbaijan is mentioned by many, and even Israel is mentioned by a few in Washington as a package that would be part of any move towards a two-state solution. Are we in active dialogue with our American allies on the overall logic of NATO enlargement and how that interacts with our policy towards Russia and other neighbouring countries?

My Lords, we are in interactive dialogue all the time with our partners in the alliance. With respect to Russia, there have been comments and speculation about the pace of enlargement, but NATO decides by consensus, so decisions are taken after much consultation and discussion. Those discussions and that consultation are taking place on Georgia and Ukraine. As far as I am aware, there are absolutely no discussions on Israel joining NATO. The NATO Secretary-General visited Israel last February when Israel put forward a tangible proposal for enhancing its co-operation with NATO. We welcome that co-operation, but that is as far as it goes.

My Lords, the NATO parliamentary assembly at its meeting in Paris at the end of May urged member Governments to start the intensified dialogue with Georgia as soon as possible, preferably before this summer. It also urged member Governments to provide technical assistance to Georgia to speed up integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Do the British Government support that recommendation of the NATO parliamentary assembly? If so, what have they done?

My Lords, we certainly welcome Georgia’s NATO aspirations, and we stand ready to assist its reform programme wherever possible. We very much hope that Georgia will be given its intensified dialogue later this year, but, in the mean time, progress must continue in Georgia. Once it has achieved its intensified dialogue, progress towards membership will depend on its achieving NATO standards.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that one of the great achievements of NATO is to stop member countries going to war with each other—one thinks particularly of Greece and Turkey? Therefore, enlargement has a great role to play in producing stability over large areas of Europe.

My Lords, is it not the case that the larger and more numerous the membership of NATO becomes, the more urgent it is to find some good working machinery to achieve standard rules of engagement for all NATO members, so that forces in out-of-area operations in places such as Afghanistan can operate at maximum efficiency?

My Lords, common rules of engagement are extremely important in NATO. However, we also need to construct better partnerships with countries with which we work on the ground—for example, Australia and Japan—but which are clearly outside NATO.

My Lords, we will of course discuss Afghanistan later in a Statement, but the position of NATO there is extremely worrying and there is enormous concern about how the organisation can strengthen itself. On the more immediate question of expansion, is it not the position that the Baltic three—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—are being invited to join and that Russia is very concerned about that? Are we in a good dialogue with Russia, whose support we certainly need in dealing with other issues, such as Iran? Could that be improved if we spoke to the Russians, rather than leaving it to people such as Vice-President Cheney who seem determined to offend them?

My Lords, of course there is great concern about the situation in Afghanistan and, as the noble Lord said, there is to be a Statement later today. In respect of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, I presume that he means that they are being invited to join in in Iraq—

I am sorry, my Lords, in NATO. They are full members of NATO already. We welcome that, and I understand that they play a constructive role in NATO—in fact, much more so than people had presumed they would when they first joined.

My Lords, we are talking about the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It seems to me that we are going rather wide of that purpose by talking, first, about eastern Europe and, in Azerbaijan, about Asia. In talking about Israel, we are referring to the Middle East. Is it not the case that NATO is proceeding rather wider than was intended in the first place and, far from helping to promote peace, may be helping future wars?

My Lords, I should make it absolutely clear that, when NATO talks about the prospect of enlargement, it discusses that with prospective member states within Europe. It does not look to enlarge beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. The central and eastern European countries are within Europe; Azerbaijan is within Europe. As I mentioned to the noble Lord earlier, there are no plans for Israel to join NATO.